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NYFF 2011. Michel Hazanavicius's "The Artist"

Reviews aren't as over-the-moon as they were in Cannes, but no one's denying _The Artist_'s popular appeal.
David Hudson

A little over a week ago, Geoffrey Macnab prepped Independent readers for the arrival of Michel Hazanavicius's latest at the London Film Festival: "Rapturously received in Cannes, this is a classic tale of old Hollywood: an A Star is Born-style yarn about a slick movie star, George Valentin (Jean Dujardin), whose popularity begins to wane with the arrival of the talkies in the late 1920s, just as that of the Theda Bara-like It Girl Peppy Miller (Berenice Bejo) rises. The Artist is a film of extraordinary visual zest, humor and pathos. It also happens to be French-made, black and white... and silent…. Valentin, the debonair and dashing protagonist of The Artist, is clearly modelled on Douglas Fairbanks. The irony of this is that Kevin Brownlow is currently trying to make a documentary about Fairbanks through his company Photoplay Productions, and no one will finance it. Contacted this week, Brownlow pointed out that, while silent movies are still championed fervently by specialist festivals like Pordenone, Bologna and San Francisco, it remains an uphill struggle to get them on mainstream television. He too is hoping that, if The Artist is the major box-office hit that is being predicted, it will kick start a revival of silent cinema in general."

Robert Koehler for Cinema Scope: "The Artist is a five-reeler black-and-white silent film with dialogue intertitles shot in Academy aspect ratio, with such added technical subtleties as period-proper reel-change markers and slight tint changes between reels, to say nothing of the production's uncanny staging of late 20s and early 30s Los Angeles indoors and out with locations rigorously chosen for their proper period appearance, down to the look of the sidewalks and streets…. The director's mise en scène duplications from Mack Sennett, Josef von Sternberg, Fritz Lang and Fred Niblo beg for affectionate applause, much like the movie's scene-stealing Jack Russell terrier." Still, he considers The Artist to be "a distant second to Malick's The Tree of Life as the most overrated film in Cannes."

For Jaime N Christley, writing in Slant, The Artist ignores "everything that's fascinating and memorable about the era, focusing instead on a patchwork of general knowledge, so eroded of inconvenient facts that it doesn't even qualify as a roman à clef." The film simply "goes full steam ahead with the presumption that the silent cinema was most accurately depicted in Singin' in the Rain, i.e. stolid costume dramas, hysterically acted against cardboard sets."

"What if we made a silent movie about the silent film era, where the stars all act the same way in their real lives as they do in their film-within-a-film movies?" At the House Next Door, Elise Nakhnikian senses "something a little disingenuous about the whole thing, which feels like a spoof masquerading as a tribute."

"The Artist's arc is way too predictable, and on the whole it's nowhere near as emotionally impactful as the movies it nods to," writes the AV Club's Noel Murray. "But throughout, Hazanavicius finds clever, poetic ways to illustrate the allure of Golden Age Hollywood stardom, whether it's Bejo dancing with Dujardin's empty tuxedo or the couple falling in love while doing multiple takes of a scene. And the ending is boffo."

"It's the only film this season aside from Martin Scorsese's Hugo that's so deeply infatuated with the history of the movies themselves," notes Nathaniel Rogers.

Michael Guillén talks with Hazanavicius at the Evening Class.

Update: "Michael Hazanavicius's failed experiment in retro-stylizing achieves a sleek pish-posh look that seems to reflect less a knowledge of how late silent films looked and behaved than a desire to cook up a glossy stylistic stew," writes Andrew Schenker for the L. "There's a little German Expressionism, an iris-out here and there, a lengthy snippet from the Vertigo soundtrack. None of it matters; it's all completely dehistoricized and grab-bag random."

Updates, 10/19: "With an assist from Harvey Weinstein, who snapped up US rights to the movie for a reported seven-figure price, The Artist is being touted as contender for the Oscars," notes Celestine Bohlen for the International Herald Tribune. "It would be the first silent movie to win a best picture award in 83 years…. In a recent interview by telephone, Michel Hazanavicius, the 44-year-old director, conceded that the project had been a risk, but not for him. The biggest gambler, he said, was the producer Thomas Langmann, who not only backed the film, but also concurred with the idea that it had to be shot in Hollywood and nowhere else."

R Kurt Osenlund is weighing Oscar prospects as well over at the House Next Door.

Update, 10/22: For Julien Allen, writing in Reverse Shot, "what differentiates The Artist as a cinematic event is the wholehearted way in which it celebrates its self-imposed formal limitations, so that the real homage to Hollywood exists through the way it sets for itself the challenge and rises so convincingly to it, rather than the sheer weight of familiar moments from Hollywood's golden age it submits to pastiche."

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DailyFestival CoverageMichel HazanaviciusNYFFNYFF 2011
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